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The trophy sits on the shelf. We forget about it, except once in a while, in passing, when we glance up or someone says something - then we remember. We remember the moment of victory, we remember receiving it. The joy, the triumph, the transportation beyond ourselves - how can one describe such emotions? If you've had the feeling, you know it - know it so deeply you can return to the moment and re-experience it. The swirling sensation, the sense of self-dominance, the assuredness of ascendancy over opponents and obstacles alike.
Yet the trophy, this symbolic success, questions the value of winning. At least, at times this thought come to mind: "Do not be like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but rather be like servants who serve their master without the intent of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you." (That's Antigonus of Socho, Ethics of the Fathers 1:3).
The victory should be its own reward. Oh, I know the trophy's only symbolic - didn't I just say that? - but still, what does it symbolize? Something material, a competitive victory. And if we say, let the game or the sport be a metaphor for a mitzva, an analogy for action spiritual, then we're back to Antigonus of Socho. We struggle and wrestle with our yetzer hara - our evil inclination - for a trifle. We serve for the sake of a reward.
We pursue the token, the reward of our mitzvot - be it health, wealth, wisdom, long life, an after-life. Do we really keep kosher only and just because G-d says so? Well, yes, but - but do we in truth have no other motive, no trinket of superiority in sight?
This business of trophies, of rewards - of getting things for doing well - doesn't it seem a little bothersome, even once in a while? (Doing well, doing right, doing good - conquering adversity and conquering adversaries - the ideas are transferable. Athletics, sports, competition prepare you for life; they're a microcosm of the personal and social struggle. Etc. They teach discipline, responsibility. Etc. Etc. Effort, talent, persistence are rewarded, just like in the "real world." Etc. Etc. Etc. And the reward for all this? A cheap - or not so cheap - statue.)
So where's the altruism, the realization that "the reward of a mitzva is a mitzva"? (That's Ben Azzai, in Ethics 4:2.) Indeed, there's a story of the Baal Shem Tov being told that he lost his share in the World to Come, because he defied a heavenly decree to help out a fellow Jew. The Baal Shem Tov rejoiced for he knew then that he served G-d "as a servant who serves his Master without intent of receiving a reward." He could serve G-d simply and completely for G-d's sake, not his own. (Of course, he was later granted again a share in the World to Come.)
It seems to me that while we struggle against the animal within and the temptations without, we strive for a balance between the selfish and the selfless. If we are to follow the dictate to "set aside your will because of His will..." (Rabban Gamliel, Ethics 2:4) it means we have to have a will of our own to start with.
So maybe the trophy mentality isn't so bad. Maybe materialistic acknowledg-ment of achievement carries a spiritual significance. A gold star, a fancy car - a trophy. Maybe it's not the trophy itself, the sign, that matters, but what the trophy stands for - what is signified. What did we do to earn it, anyway?
There is a reward for our labors, our struggles. We earn the trophy, the World to Come, Redemption, the days of Moshiach. But to do so, our struggle has to be the right struggle. As Rabbi Elazar said (Ethics, 2:14): "Be diligent in the study of Torah; know what to answer an unbeliever; and know before Whom you toil, and Who your employer is that will pay you the reward of your labor."
This week we begin the customary study of Ethics of the Fathers each Shabbat afternoon.
This week's Torah reading, Acharei, describes the sacrificial worship carried out in the Temple on Yom Kippur, but it prefaces that description with an allusion to the death of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Avihu.
Why did Nadab and Avihu die? The Torah relates previously that they entered the Holy of Holies with "a strange fire that G-d did not command them [to bring]."
Now on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter the same sacred place, the Holy of Holies. And so, the Torah warns him not to repeat the error made by Aaron's sons.
What was the mistake of Aaron's sons? They sought closeness to G-d and were willing to give up everything, even their lives, to achieve that. The Or HaChayim, one of the classic commentaries on the Torah, explains that their death did not come as a punishment. Instead, their souls appreciated the G-dly light manifest in the Holy of Holies and clung to it. Their desire for G-dliness was so great that their souls simply expired.
This was the error that the High Priest was to avoid on Yom Kippur. Although he would enter the Holy of Holies and come face to face with the Divine Presence, he was warned to keep in focus that the intent of his service was life in this world, not a bond with G-d in the spiritual realms. Rather than seek out closeness with G-d, his purpose in entering was to evoke atonement and blessing for the Jewish people as they exist in this material realm.
What is the core of the issue? Aaron's sons sought their own spiritual satisfaction; what was gratifying for them. The High Priest, on the other hand, is a servant, carrying out G-d's will, aware that what G-d desires is not a bond with Him in the spiritual realms, but rather the observance of His will and His mitzvot (commandments) in this material world.
Similar concepts apply with regard to the ultimate, desired state of existence. Maimonides maintains that the ultimate is the spiritual world of souls, the afterlife. All material existence, even the heights to be reached in the era of the Redemption and the era of the Resurrection, he maintains, is secondary to the G-dliness to be experienced when the soul leaves the body.
The Sages of the Kabala, the Jewish mystic tradition, differ and maintain that the ultimate state will be the Resurrection of the Dead. Souls that have enjoyed spiritual bliss in the afterlife for thousands of years will descend and live again in a material body. For G-d's essence is invested in this material world, and it is through life in this world that the most encompassing bond with Him can be established.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe
by Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann
Aunt Rosie was born a Jew. She died last night. In between, she had very little contact with Judaism. Very little. Aunt Rosie - my wife's Aunt Rosie, her mother's only sister - is easy to describe. She was short, round, gray and always smiling. Since I met her more than two decades ago at my wedding, she was always short, round and almost always smiling. She saw the world for what it was, but never saw bad. Oh, she could criticize people, especially relatives - not age alone gave her sharpness. Sometimes she could be slightly acerbic, like a sweet orange. But with all the judgment came acceptance.
She loved simply. She loved generously. And gently. Let those two words interplay and intertwine and perhaps a glimpse of her character will come through. A generous gentility. A gentle generosity. But even then, some quirk, some quixotic nuance might escape attention.
She neither idealized nor romanticized, though one might mistake her for a devotee of either, so thoroughly did optimism and cheerfulness penetrate her being. She could get angry, she could be upset, but she resisted being so. She repulsed the passions, as if she feared the fire in the soul.
She faced life with a sort of quietude. One might describe her as fearful - both apprehensive and reverent, anxious and respectful. But she was not timid. A simple person, to whom logic and argument were foreign, for her prayer and G-d were real, tangible without embarrassment.
Aunt Rosie had but one niece, my wife, and doted on her and our children. Their achievements were secret triumphs for her. But enough. There is a furtive virtue. And if you can picture fondness fretful, affection anxious and a fervor to smile, then perhaps you've glimpsed Aunt Rosie.
I began: "Aunt Rosie was born a Jew. She died last night. In between, she had very little contact with Judaism." That, of course, is the real focus here. Her sister, my wife's mother, said, "She should have a proper Jewish burial. She was, after all, born a Jew, and that's who she was." And she asked me to see that it was so.
My mother-in-law lives in Florida. My wife and I live elsewhere. Aunt Rosie lived in the Northeast. And so I called a shliach - an emissary - a Chabad rabbi - Rabbi Moshe Bleich of Wellesely, Massachusetts. We had never spoken. And here I was, another Jew in a city far away, asking him to bury my wife's aunt, as a Jew should be buried. I told him Aunt Rosie's story. A Jewish soul needing to come closer.
But the Lubavitcher Rebbe has taught that no Jew, no child of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, could ever be far from Judaism, distant from home. It's all about coming closer to where we already are.
The shliach, the Chabad rabbi, did what he did, because that's what Jews do for each other. He might never see any of us - me, my wife, my in-laws. But a neshama, a Jewish soul, always recognizes another, for in doing so, it recognizes itself.
This kindness is described in the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, Tanya, chapter 32, for all to see. "'Love thy fellow as thyself' (Leviticus 19:18) ... as for the soul and spirit, who can know their greatness and excellence in their root and source in the living G-d? Being all of a kind ..."
The oneness and unity of the Jewish people. Aunt Rosie would have appreciated that, if asked.
She who avoided contention, who escaped discord, who dreaded disagreement - she who knew so little of who she was, a Jewish soul. For a Jew not to care for - or take care of - another Jew?
I think she would have liked the Chabadnik, the rabbi - the Jew - who made sure her life ended as it began.
And I think she would have asked us to consider that love of a fellow Jew and Jewish unity must extend, in word and deed, to the Jew on the other side of the table, on the other side of the spectrum, on the other side from our own. For the sides are external, and inside is only a neshama, a Jewish soul.
L'ilui nishmata - for the elevation of the soul - of Raizel bas Yosef:
The Rebbe teaches us to focus on the positive and the practical. In honor of Aunt Rosie - and don't we all have an Aunt Rosie in our lives? - light Shabbat candles. If you already light candles or you are of the male persuasion, encourage someone else to light candles. Smile one extra smile each day, as it says, "Serve G-d with joy" (Psalms 100:2) and "Greet every person with a cheerful countenance" (Ethics 1:15). And pray for the welfare of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Jewish people everywhere, that the present conflict lead to the final and true Redemption, to the time when the "whole world will be filled with awareness of G-dliness," and when "those who dwell in the dust shall awake and rejoice."
Dovid Kaufmann is the administrator at Chabad of New Orleans and a professor of English at Tulane University.
A Mother In Israel
"I am not a writer nor the daughter of a writer." With these humble words, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson begins her diary. The scion of a prestigious Rabbinic family, wife of famous Kabbalist Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson and mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chana's life spanned a critical and tumultuous era in history. In her prime years, Rebbetzin Chana lived through the horrors associated with pogroms and the tragic loss of a child. She then devotedly cared for an exiled and ailing husband and eventually witnessed his death. In 1948, she wrote her memoirs in relative peace and calm here in the United States, later seeing her oldest son ascend to leadership of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. This is the story of her life. Between the lines, one senses an erudite, humble and compassionate wife, mother and woman. Kehot Publications
24th of Nissan, 5727 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I was genuinely pleased to see you at the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering], and previously at the davening [prayers]. In addition to the pleasure of seeing tangible proof of your satisfactory physical health, it is particularly gratifying to be able to share with good friends the joy of Yom Tov [holiday], especially Achron-shel-Pesach [the last day of Passover]. For the farbrengen on this occasion is in many respects an extension of the Haphtorah of the day, which speaks of the blissful days of Moshiach and continues in the note of true fulfillment, when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
While the Haphtorah speaks of the Days of Moshiach, G-d, Who is the Essence of Goodness, desires that the Good (in this case the universal knowledge of G-d) which He will give us should be enjoyed to the fullest measure. Needless to say, the joy and appreciation of gaining something through toil and effort is incomparably greater than something which comes by without trying. Consequently, the activity now to spread "knowledge of G-d on earth" - the dissemination of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] - is the proper and necessary preparation for it, whereby also it will be possible to enjoy to the full the blessing of "the earth will be full of the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
The joy is compounded when one has the opportunity to bring the knowledge of G-d to spheres which are inaccessible to others, for which G-d provides a special capacity to accomplish it.
As you will easily infer, I am referring to your unique Zechus [privilege] in being able to bring the "Emes Hashem l'Olom" [the eternal truth of G-dliness] to a circle where few, if indeed any but you, can penetrate - the Emes Hashem - embodied in His Toras Emes [true Torah]. Truth is, of course, incompatible with compromise, for even the slightest compromise invalidates the real truth.
This reminds me of the story related by my father-in-law of saintly memory during a farbrengen on Achron-shel-Pesach:
"My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash [Rabbi Sholom Ber, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch], once said to the Chosid R' Elya Abeler, a market trader: "Elya, I envy you. You travel and go to markets and fairs, which gives you the opportunity to exchange a Jewish word with a fellow-Jew and inspire him to [study] Nigleh [the revealed parts of the Torah] and Chasidus. This creates joy in Heaven, and G-d pays the commission in terms of children, life and sustenance. The busier the market and the greater the effort, the greater the Parnosso [sustenance]."
"Scores of years later, when R' Elya recounted this to me, he was aglow and aflame with those words, and his limbs shook, as though he had just heard them for the first time that day." (Sefer Hasichos, 5703, P. 111).
The story speaks for itself. I will only add the obvious, that envy in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth is quite in order.
To reiterate what I wished you during our meeting, may it be G-d's Will that for many years to come you should work in the above mentioned direction, in good health, and with joy and gladness of heart, and with a growing measure of vitality and inspiration; and may the above blessings of the Rebbe Maharash be fulfilled in you and yours.
P.S. It was a particular pleasure for me to hear your daughter recite on the sedra [portion] of the Torah and about the Seder, which she did with naturalness and innocence characteristic of a child, oblivious of compromise. It bespeaks your ability, undoubtedly shared by your wife, to instill such pure faith in her. Have much Nachas [pleasure].
25 Nisan, 5763 - April 27, 2003
Prohibition 99: We are forbidden to offer a sacrifice without salt
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev 2:13) "Neither shall you omit salt of the covenant of your G-d" We are not allowed to present a sacrifice or meal offering which does not contain salt. The Torah calls the addition of salt to the sacrifice "the covenant of your G-d." The Torah uses salt to symbolize G-d's covenant with the Jewish people. Salt does not spoil and it retains its taste for a very long time, so, too, G-d's bond with the Jewish people will never be broken. It is in remembrance of this salt that it is customary to dip bread in salt before eating it
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On the 28th of Nisan, 12 years ago, the Rebbe made a declaration that shocked his Chasidim:
"I have done everything I can. Now I am giving it over to each one of you. Do everything you can to bring Moshiach in actuality" the Rebbe stated.
Throughout the following 11 months, until his stroke, the Rebbe continued to speak numerous times each week about Moshiach and what each one of us can do to prepare for and hasten the Redemption.
The Rebbe, ever emphasizing our Sages' teaching that "deed is essential," has given concrete suggestions about how we can best do what we need to do to bring Moshiach:
Study Torah in general, and in particular, those parts of Torah that pertain to Moshiach and the Redemption. More specifically, study about Moshiach and Redemption as elucidated in the Rebbe's 32 volumes of "Collected Talks" (Likutei Sichot).
Live in a manner now that is a "dress rehearsal" for the Redemption, the time when there will no strife, no jealousy, world peace and inner harmony, and Divine knowledge will be within everyone's reach.
Give extra charity, keeping in mind the Talmud's teaching that charity hastens the Redemption.
Increase in acts of goodness and kindness. Every day, perhaps a number of times each day, do something kind for a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, a family member, a stranger.
In this way, may we hasten the moment when all of our needs, spiritual and material, will be amply supplied in the ultimate Redemption.
He shall wear a holy linen coat. (Lev. 16:4)
The High Priest wore only linen garb in the Holy of Holies, rather than the gold clothing which he wore the entire year while performing his duties. This is because Israel built the golden calf, and even a reminder of that sin should not be brought into the Holy of Holies.
On the tenth day of the seventh month you shall afflict yourselves. (Lev. 16:29).
The Apter Rav author of Ohev Yisrael used to say: "Were I only to have the authority I would annul all the fast days on the Jewish calendar with two exceptions. Those are the Ninth of Av, date of the destruction of the Temple - for who can eat on such a day - and Yom Kippur (the tenth day of the seventh month), the holiest day of the year - for who needs to eat on such a day?"
Because the life of all flesh is in the blood. (Lev. 17:11)
The blood is the "soul" of man and beast. G-d permitted us to eat only an animal's body, and not its soul. Since the blood of a beast is its soul, we do not want to take an animal's soul into our bodies. We must have an elevated consciousness in order to study Torah and perform mitzvot (commandments). That which a person eats turns to blood in his body and his mind is nourished from it.
Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow any of their customs. (Lev 18:3)
This verse is not exhorting us concerning transgressions; those are detailed later. Rather, it is informing us concerning the actions and deeds which are permitted; they must be performed in a different manner from the non-Jewish people in Egypt and Canaan. Even our eating and sleeping should be done in a Jewish way.
Keep my decrees and laws, since it is only by keeping them that a man can truly live. (Lev. 18:5)
The Torah spells the word "otam" - them, without the usual vav, leaving only the letters of the word "emet" - truth. This indicates that if one makes truth the byword and mainstay of his life, he is guaranteed to see the fulfillment of the end of the verse, "He shall live by them." For clinging to truth is a special blessing for long life.
(Degel Machane Efrayim)
A century ago, there lived in the town of Polotsk in Russia a simple storekeeper by the name of Reb Yisrael. He was a follower of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the third leader of Chabad. Once, on a visit to the town of Lubavitch, he heard a discourse of Chasidic philosophy from the Rebbe, explaining how our father Abraham was charitable monetarily, spiritually and bodily. The Rebbe proceeded to give a profound mystical explanation to show how Abraham's physical acts of charity in this material world were in a sense higher than Supernal Kindness.
Reb Yisrael did not understand the entire dissertation, but he did grasp these few words about Abraham, which he repeated over and over until he committed them to memory. When he came home, the Chasidim gathered to welcome him at the customary festive reception for those who returned from Lubavitch. They asked Reb Yisrael if he could perhaps repeat the discourse that the Rebbe had said. Reb Yisrael replied that he could not, but he had committed to memory a few words about Abraham's charitableness, which he proceeded to repeat to them.
After the reception, Reb Yisrael went back to his store as usual.
Nachman and Yosef, also storekeepers in Polotsk, were friends of Reb Yisrael. Reb Yisrael decided that he would go into Nachman's store and ask him for a loan. He did not need the money, but having heard from the Rebbe the great quality of charitableness (which includes lending money without interest) he wanted to give his friend Nachman the opportunity to fulfill this great mitzva. Nachman and Yosef followed his example; every day they would borrow and repay small amounts of money from each other.
When Reb Yisrael was next in Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel came out of the synagogue and asked one of the senior Chasidim, "Who is that person over there?" looking toward Reb Yisrael. The Chasid was at a loss to answer, for Reb Yisrael was not one of the well-known Chasidim. Eventually he discovered who the person was and that he was a storekeeper from Polotsk. Rabbi Menachem asked that Reb Yisrael be sent to his room.
When Reb Yisrael came in, the Rebbe asked him about his work and his daily schedule. Reb Yisrael replied that he got up every morning at five, said Psalms, drank a cup of tea, chopped wood, and then went to the synagogue to pray. After the prayers, he studied a chapter of Torah, went home to eat breakfast and then went to the marketplace to his store. Later, in the afternoon, he went to the synagogue again, to say the afternoon prayers, studied a little more, prayed the evening service and went home.
The Rebbe was not satisfied. "Nu, and what about tzedaka?" he inquired.
"I am a poor man and cannot afford to give charity," Reb Yisrael replied. After further questioning by the Rebbe, however, Reb Yisrael's strange custom of taking and giving back small loans came to the surface.
Later, Rabbi Mendel Menachem's son, Rabbi Shmuel, asked his saintly father, "What do you seek in him?"
The Rebbe replied, "I saw, surrounding the simple store- keeper, Reb Yisrael, a radiance, a pillar of light as great as that of the Supernal Kindness.
One might ask, if a particular soul has been reincarnated in a number of bodies, in which body will it be clothed at the time of the Resurrection? Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as "the AriZal" in Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction 4 explains that each time a soul descends to this world, one of its components is rectified; through successive descents, the soul as an entirety is rectified. Ultimately, each component of the soul will be resurrected in the body which served as its host.
(To Live and Live Again by Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov)